Indoor Air Quality

How good is the air in your home or work environment?

The USEPA reports our indoor air quality is 5 – 20 times more polluted than outdoor air and we spend 90% of our time indoors. Medical doctors who specialize in allergies represent the fastest growth specialty in medicine. Global warming has added four weeks to the growth cycle of many pollens/molds and the number of trips to the emergency room per year is rapidly rising. There is no doubt health effects related to indoor air quality is increasing at an alarming rate.

Global warming is certainly not helping, but what else is going on? Although not inclusive, contributing factors are:

  • Tightly constructed buildings which reduce natural air ventilation in order to save energy. This is known as static persistent pollution
  • Recycled, moist air which can harbor fungi or bacteria and encourage insect habitat
  • Less exposure to the outdoors
  • Over 33% of Americans now share the home with at least one dog or cat.
  • Increased use of pesticides
  • Synthetic building materials which may off-gas VOC’s for decades.
  • House dust mites
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Systemic exposure to bio-aerosols, solvents, metals, and petroleum distillates

Workmen’s compensation claims for indoor air related illness are increasing yearly. The average employee misses four work days per year due to allergies or respiratory illness related to indoor air quality. A subset of exposed workers develop multi-system symptoms known as TILT – “Toxicant -Induced Loss of Tolerance”.

Another subset is known to experience hyper-sensitivity to certain compounds, to include particulates, bio-aerosols and volatile organic compounds (VOC’s). The ability to tolerate specific exposures is not quantifiable from an individual health perspective.

woman-headacheEmployees who may be affected by indoor air issues are often confused and even frustrated.

They may experience headaches, blurred vision, fatigue, sinus problems, muscle ache, irritability, difficulty concentrating, or difficulty breathing.  Often, these symptoms are believed to be caused by job related stress.  In time, the employee begins to suspect sick building syndrome as they may notice improvement a few hours after leaving work or relate the symptoms only occur while they are at work.

Employers are also confused by the employee’s complaint; often building related stressors do not equally affect all employees.

One thing is certain – both the employee and the employer should strive to determine if indoor air quality is posing a risk to the occupants.

Proper evaluation of an employee complaint is not as simple as taking a few measurements or air samples.  The testing may indicate the absence/presence of a specific stressor, at a given time, but this is not indicative of the work environment which is constantly changing.

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A thorough evaluation of the building, building components, fenestration, HVAC, lighting, sanitation, cleaning products, ventilation, pest control and adjacent grounds maintenance is needed to determine pathways for contaminant exposure.  Peak work cycles need to be understood which may involve copying or shredding of documents.  Furnishings, carpeting, floor cleaners, air purifiers and printed materials may contribute to poor indoor air by releasing excessive VOC’s.  The release, although constant, may be elevated at certain periods of the day based upon high relative humidity, reduced ventilation or temperature.

The Consultant must be knowledgeable in construction techniques/practices as well as indoor air quality assessment.  The two disciplines cannot be separated if a sound conclusion can be presented.  Your Consultant should not only be ACAC certified but they should have a proven background in building construction.

What is the #1 mistake by employers or building owners regarding indoor air quality?

Indoor-Consultant

Upon completion of the building or prior to entering into a lease agreement, the responsible party should have a baseline indoor air quality assessment performed.  This information is invaluable in assessing changes to the indoor air quality over a period of time or possibly detecting an existing problem.

Please contact us to discuss your unique environment.  We have the qualifications you need – Certified General Contractor, Board Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (ACAC), Licensed Mold Assessor, ICC Commercial Building Inspector and BCSP certified Associate Safety Professional.


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Residential Indoor Air Quality

healthy-home

Your home may be killing you is not an overstatement.  The USEPA, the World Health Organization, the American Public Health Association, the American Lung Association, leading building science organizations, researchers and medical doctors all agree – the incidence of building related sickness is increasing at an alarming rate.  Central Florida now boasts 1.04 Board Certified Allergists for every 10,000 residents.  Orlando was voted the #1 allergy capital in the USA for 2013.

Our homes can develop sick building syndrome from many sources – mold, bacteria, VOC’s, carbon monoxide, insects/pests, lead, radon, asbestos, ozone, siloxanes and others.  The Florida home is bombarded with heat, humidity, moisture and insects and we combat the assailants with recycled air conditioning and pesticides. 

The amount and quality of research into health effects from dust mites, mold/dampness, and other chemical compounds over the past five years has surpassed all learning gains of the previous 50 years.  Why the sudden interest in our indoor air quality?  The answer is Americans are getting sick and sick people relate to money.  Pharmaceutical companies want to invent medicines to lessen the symptoms and government wants to cut medical expenses.  One in five children is developing asthma or asthma related illness.  Lung cancer not associated with smoking is increasing.  Medical researchers are linking environmental factors to many other diseases and educators are linking environmental stressors to low performing students.

Indoor Air Quality Recent Reports:

  • Scientists from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Duke University Medical Center (Oct. 2012) reports a bacterial protein in common house dust may worsen allergic responses to indoor allergens.  The protein, flagellin, boosts allergic responses to allergens.  This connective research is especially important to the 20 million Americans who suffer from asthma.
  • High environmental relative moldiness index during infancy is a predictor of asthma at 7 years of age.  The Environmental Relative Moldiness Index (ERMI) was developed to provide a metric to prove a link between infant exposure to mold and the development of wheeze and rhinitis by age three and asthma at age seven.  ERMI has been adopted by the USEPA, HUD and the WHO.  Studies are positive and show a direct correlation between infant exposure to dampness and mold to the development of asthma by age 7.  In fact, ERMI supports your child’s chances of developing asthma is 2.5 times greater than a child born to an asthmatic parent.  If your child already suffers from asthma, eliminating dust, dust mites, moisture, dampness and mold from your home supports significant reductions in hospital intervention for children’s asthma.  (Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology 2011:107:120-126.

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If you would like a copy of this important study, contact us and we will be happy to send it to you.

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An extensive study was conducted by Ohio State University which shows 50% to 80% of all asthmatics may suffer from exposure to house dust mites. Their research supports house dust mites may be the single largest contributor to the development of asthma in children.

These mites are microscopic and live in carpeting, pillows, linens, fabrics and your pets. Their fecal pellets are inhaled and over time, infect the pulmonary system. Children exposed to house dust mites in their first year developed life- long allergies.

mold-asthmaA common blood-clotting protein plays a role in allergic asthma.  Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine suspect asthma is a protective response against fungi (mold) in many people.

The fungi encourages TLR4 proteinase to defend against the inflammatory fungi which results in swelling of the throat and restricted breathing capacity.


What have we learned in the past five years?

We have the ability to test your home or office and identify contaminants or conditions which are affecting your health.  Once these contaminants are removed and the building is restored, research supports a dramatic improvement in your health is likely.  We know:

  • House dust and dust mites are major contributors to the development of asthma.
  • Relative humidity over 60% provides habitat for molds, dust mites, insects and pests.
  • Mold is directly linked to asthma and pulmonary function deficiencies.
  • Off gassing of VOC’s from building materials, furnishings and copier toner is contributing to Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) in the workplace.  Your workplace exposure reduces your tolerance to contaminants found in the average home.
  • Systemic water intrusion from leaks, deficient air conditioning systems,  deferred maintenance, poor sanitation and reduced fresh air intake support the colonization of mold, insects and pests.

When should you consult with a Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (CIEC)?

You should consult with a Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant (CIEC) if you have any of these criteria present:

family
  • You suspect an indoor air quality issue
  • A member of your family suffers with allergies or asthma
  • You have an infant in the home
  • You have had a plumbing or roof leak
  • You have had storm damage or roof issues
  • You notice fungal odors in the home
  • You have old or worn carpeting
  • You have problems with termites, cockroaches or mice
  • It is hard to control humidity in the home
  • You have pets
  • Your home has ever been fumigated for termites
  • Your home has copper/metal piping installed prior to 1986
  • Your home was built prior to 1978 – you may have lead paint

Other environmental hazards which may affect your health

lead-freeLead poses a significant hazard.  Lead is found in potable water well water, in solder used to join copper piping prior to 1986 and in paints manufactured prior to 1978.

Lead is also found in plumbing fixtures.  Current law allows up to 8% of lead may be used in plumbing fixtures so even new homes are not safe from lead leaching into the drinking water.  Only a USEPA certified lead inspector is allowed to test for lead.

 

radon

Radon is a colorless, odorless, gas.  Although central Florida is not nearly as affected as other regions of the country, elevated radon levels are still found in about 7% of our central Florida homes.

Our biggest threat from radon is from our drinking water and those with private wells are especially vulnerable.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking.

 

asbestos

Asbestos containing materials were mostly banned in 1978.  However, many people are shocked to learn some products which were banned in 1978 were re-instated in 1989 due to a court decision.

Products which are allowed to contain ACM today are roof coatings, cement shingles, vinyl floor tile and roofing felts.  Many homes built prior to 1978 have ACM.  Pipe/duct wrap, mill board, acoustical ceiling tiles, floor/wall tile, siding, roof shingles and underlayments, electrical wrap, HVAC sealant tape, appliances and many others are commonly found.

CO

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas.  We know it accounts for about 150 deaths per year but what we don’t know is how many people suffer from prolonged exposure to CO.

CO is a by-product of incomplete combustion from gas appliances, wood burning stoves/fireplaces, and automobile emissions.  CO disrupts the flow of oxygen to the body and especially the brain.  If you have gas fired appliances such as range/oven, water heater, fireplace or HVAC systems, or wood burning stoves/fireplaces, you should install a CO detector for your protection.

Symptoms of CO include lethargy, joint pain, swelling of the throat, eye irritation, headache, nausea, sinus irritation, difficulty concentrating, irritability and drowsiness.

environment

Every leading university, entymologists, the USEPA, HUD, APHA and the WHO are voicing the same concern regarding our systemic exposure to pesticides – pesticides are affecting our health.  The pest control industry has been slow, and even reluctant, to implement changes to the way our homes and lawns are treated.  The pest control industry relies upon happy customers; happy customers are those who do not see pests.

Leading researchers are now recommending an Integrated Pest Management approach which relies less upon bulk chemical spraying inside our homes with emphasis upon physical barriers to keep pests out of the home.  This means you may have to tolerate the occasional cockroach in order to keep your family healthy.  Although unknowingly, the inexpensive quarterly bug man may be jeopardizing your health.  Learn more about pest control under the Residential section.

What every homeowner should know before you hire a consultant

  1. Many factors may be contributing to your poor indoor air quality.
  2. If you have mold, you have excessive moisture.  To eliminate mold, you must eliminate the moisture issue.
  3. In Florida, only a licensed Mold Assessor can inspect or assess mold.  Never hire a home inspector who claims they can assess mold based on unqualified credentials.  They must have a MRSA license – ask for it.
  4. Hiring someone to take an air sample is a waste of your money.  Just because the mold level inside your home is higher than the outside does not mean you have a mold problem.
  5. Never allow a mold remediation company to assess your home for mold or allow them to conduct post remediation testing for clearance.  It is a conflict of interest.
  6. If you have mold/moisture issues, you may have other concerns such as dust mites or pests.
  7. Your home cannot Pass or Fail a mold test.  If someone tells you the home Failed, report them to the Dept. of Business & Professional Regulation/Construction Industry Licensing Board.
  8. A mold assessor is not qualified to assess indoor air quality for anything other than mold.

If you are unsure what to do, if you have experienced water damage or you want a second opinion, contact us.  We offer a free initial telephone consultation.

Commercial Indoor Air Quality Assessment

Commercial-IQA

Building Air Quality Management, Building Facilities Management and Building Integrated Management systems are correlated functions.  Unless these functions are coordinated, the success of one component may relate to failure in the other.

Achieving optimal energy efficiency with a BIM model may unknowingly create IAQ issues due to unknown tenant activities such as peak copying or shredding which may be increasing the static persistent pollution.  Deferring building envelope maintenance may result in moisture intrusion.  Switching to a lower fee janitorial service may increase siloxanes or VOC’s from inexpensive cleaning products.  Failing to monitor HVAC system maintenance which is perceived to be a tenant responsibility in a NNN lease may compromise the overall building health.

ocupationalClaims by employees/tenants for IAQ related illness are increasing 8% per year.

Claims for Building Related Illness (BRI), Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), and Toxicant Induced Loss of Tolerance (TILT) are increasingly used as a basis for Worker Compensation claims, disability claims or legal action seeking damages.

The single best defense an employer or building owner can have is a baseline IAQ screen with annual updates – yet, few have this. Owners should have a documented Building Air Quality Management plan for the protection of occupants and their investment.

air-quality-plan
A Building Air Quality Management plan should include:

  • The IAQ profile of the building
  • Establish a baseline for the building
  • Develop a plan for facility operations and maintenance
  • Manage processes with potential pollutants
  • Communication with tenants or occupants
  • Establish procedures for responding to IAQ complaints
  • Be updated annually, or as events or changes occur

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Indoor air quality testing services

BAQ-Plans

Comprehensive BAQ Plans, anywhere, for any size or use.

Indoor air quality testing services are a routine part of our business but we do not treat testing as routine.  In many cases, the indoor air issue is related to building deficiencies.  Many of our competitors are trained to collect and even analyze viable or non-viable samples; but, they do not have any building construction knowledge or HVAC training.  It is not enough to advise you that you have a contaminant elevation over some arbitrary background screen – what will you do with that?  You need to know and understand why the contaminant is present, how to eliminate it and what the cost will be to restore the building to acceptable air quality levels.

Our credentials and our experience are commensurate to your needs:

  • Board Certified Indoor Environmental Consultant – ACAC
  • Certified Safety Professional – BCSP
  • Certified Environmental Trainer – BCSP
  • Certified General Contractor with 36 years of building construction
  • Licensed Mold Assessor
  • Licensed Radon Measurement Technician
  • Certified Lead Inspector, USEPA
  • Certified HVAC(R) Technician
  • Certified Commercial Building Inspector – International Code Council

What is the #2 mistake by employers or building owners regarding indoor air quality?

Hiring the wrong consultant when an issue arises.  Incredibly, this task is often assigned to junior or subordinate staff that are eager to please the boss with their phone shopping skills.  The conversation always starts with:  “What do you charge to test the air?”  Unfortunately, there are hundreds of “consultants” who will gladly provide a price to “test the air”.

Often, by the time we get to the building, two or three “consultants” have already been hired.  Often, the owner/manager wants us to “use the lab reports provided by the previous “consultant(s).  Generally, there is nothing useful.

If you suspect an indoor air quality problem, if your building has been damaged or you have received a complaint, you have a risk management problem.

Please visit the Information Center where you can find related articles or position papers on indoor air quality assessment.